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Letter to Halton Catholic District School Board on raising the Pride flag to support students and staff

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June 1, 2021

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Patrick Murphy
Chair
Halton Catholic District School Board
Catholic Education Centre
802 Drury Lane
Burlington, ON L7R 2Y2

Pat Daly
Director of Education
Halton Catholic District School Board
Catholic Education Centre
802 Drury Lane
Burlington, ON L7R 2Y2

 

Dear Chair Murphy and Director Daly:

Re: Raising the Pride flag to support students and staff

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) is aware of the Halton Catholic District School Board’s (HCDSB) recent refusal to adopt a motion directing its schools to raise the Pride flag during the month of June.

All schools in Ontario have a legal duty under the Education Act and Ontario’s Human Rights Code to ensure a school environment free from harassment and other forms of discrimination identified under the Code. This includes discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. In other words, under the Code, the HCDSB has an obligation to make sure LGBTQ2+ students and staff can learn and work in a welcoming and respectful environment, free from discrimination.

The OHRC was pleased to see that at its April 26, 2021, meeting, the Board took some steps to address these obligations by resolving to mandate safe space signage to support LGBTQ2+ students and staff, to raise staff awareness around Pride month, and to implement all-staff training on rights under the Code.

Nonetheless, the OHRC was disappointed to hear that the Board refused to accept the request that the Pride flag be raised at all HCDSB schools. While flying the Pride flag is not the only way to show acceptance and respect for LGBTQ2+ people, the flag has become an internationally recognized way for communities and organizations to support and acknowledge their LGBTQ2+ members.

The HCDSB’s refusal to accept this simple request – and the debate surrounding it – risks further stigmatizing LGBTQ2+ members of the Board’s community, many of whom may already feel stigmatized or excluded.

Also, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario has recognized that an organization’s failure to symbolically acknowledge Pride events can in some cases amount to a violation of the rights of people who are LGBTQ2+ to equal treatment in services under the Code (see, e.g. Oliver v Hamilton (City) (No. 2), 1995 CanLII 18157 (ON HRT) and Hudler v London (City), 1997 CanLII 24809 (ON HRT)).

This week, school boards across Ontario, including Catholic boards in Ottawa, Waterloo, Dufferin-Peel, Wellington, Niagara, Toronto and Thunder Bay, will raise Pride flags to acknowledge and support their LGBTQ2+ students, staff and community members.

The OHRC urges the HCDSB to reconsider its decision and to join these school boards in welcoming their LGBTQ2+ students, staff and community members by flying the Pride flag.

Thank you for your attention to this matter, and if there is any further information we can provide that would assist, do not hesitate to contact us.

 

Sincerely,

Ena Chadha, LL.B., LL.M.
Chief Commissioner

cc:        Hon. Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education
            Hon. Doug Downey, Attorney General
            OHRC Commissioners